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This Is What Social Anxiety Feels Like for Me

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Oh, social anxiety. You are the bane of my life. You cause me to isolate when I don’t want to. You cause me to freeze up in crowded areas. You cause fear when I get into situations I feel I have no escape from. You cause me to become suddenly mute when I’m among groups of people. You make me want to run and hide from things that shouldn’t be scary at all.

Social anxiety causes all kinds of strange fears for me. I can’t handle loud and constant noises. I jump at unexpected sounds, like someone’s mobile phone ringing while I’m out in public.

I don’t like crowds — too many people, getting too close, invading my personal space. I even get nervous when someone gets in line behind me at checkout. Yes, even seemingly silly things like that.

I don’t like answering the phone when I don’t know who is calling. I very rarely answer the home phone and I screen all calls that come through on my mobile. I much prefer people to text me. Then I’m not expected to answer straight away and I have a few minutes, or longer, to think of an appropriate response. And I probably spend way too much time analyzing the words and meaning in text messages, and then trying to word mine in such a way that they can’t be misinterpreted. I also don’t like making phone calls when I don’t know the person who is going to answer. Believe it or not, telephonophobia is a thing. There are very few people I am confident to talk to over the phone — mainly my husband and my mom.

Social anxiety causes me to obsess over details when planning to meet up with someone. I need specific, detailed information — date, time, place, what to wear, who else will be there, etc. If I’m going somewhere new, I need detailed directions and will probably look up and print off a map before leaving home. Apologies to those I might annoy by asking a million questions until I’m satisfied I have the details right.

I’m easily put off if there are too many disruptions to my plans for the day. Cancellations can throw me right off and cause a lot of anxiety, especially if they are at the last minute. Advanced warning of possible change always helps reduce my anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I know sometimes unexpected things happen and it can’t be helped. Most of the time I know it’s not because of anything I did. I know feeling anxious about change may not make sense or fix anything, but nonetheless, that’s how it is.

That said, I’m perfectly fine with spontaneity. As long as it’s planned spontaneity. How is that possible, you ask? What I mean by planned spontaneity is things like going on holidays, where the plan is to do whatever we feel like at the time. Or having a lazy weekend where we might decide to go for a drive to a park. Sometimes if someone invites me out at the last minute, I will need some time to process it before I can give a response. The time I need varies depending on who asked me and what the invitation is for.

Social anxiety means when I go somewhere, I need to know there are escape routes if I start to feel overwhelmed. I need to know where the exits are and that I can just leave when I need to. At the very least I need to know where the toilets are so I’m able to go and hide for a few minutes when I have to. But if I use that option, I know I need to be quick because I don’t want people thinking I’m “strange” for being in the toilet for 20 minutes. This is how my anxiety goes, but if I don’t know how to get out of a situation, I start to feel trapped and claustrophobic, which can lead to a panic attack.

When I go somewhere to meet someone or for an appointment, I cannot be late. I need to be early, but not too early, because otherwise I feel weird just hanging around waiting. I feel like people start looking at me strangely. So I have to time it perfectly so I’m not late, a little bit early, but not too early. Just writing this down, I can see how much I overthink things, but I still do it.

I have noticed as I’m getting older my social anxiety is something that seems to be getting worse rather than better. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps I’m just getting better at avoidance techniques. Perhaps by not facing my fears I’m making them worse. That is a possibility.

For all my friends and family, and for others who have a loved one with social anxiety, please be patient with us. I’m not doing these things to be intentionally difficult. It is as frustrating for me as it is for you. I would desperately love to do all the things many of you do without a second thought. I wish it was as simple as that, but it’s not how my brain is wired. I wish I could stop over analyzing things, but I can’t. What I can do is learn ways to cope and deal with my anxieties. I just need your patience while I figure these things out.

Image via Thinkstock.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Nut Factory.

Originally published: September 23, 2016
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